The CLO Cheat Sheet

6 Tips to Build a Learning Culture

Building a culture of learning is all about leading by example and being deliberate when making critical choices in behavior and learning delivery.

According to Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Chief learning officers often find themselves in the challenging role of educating other leaders in their organization about the culture of learning. As a CLO, you will need to address the culture of learning in your organization so you can implement a learning strategy to influence organizational change and foster value creation and growth.

Your starting point is to gain a deep understanding of culture in your organization. MIT Professor Edgar H. Schein, whose body of work on organizational development and organizational change has impacted business for more than 50 years, tells us the deeper the understanding of culture a leader has, the better they can embed and transmit that culture to foster organizational change.

How can you embed and transmit a learning culture in your organization? In his book, “Organizational Culture and Leadership,” Schein distills six tips to consider:

  • Focus on what you pay attention to, measure and control on a regular basis. As simple as it sounds, you can influence by example. The topics or areas of learning and development you focus on and measure consistently and systematically become a powerful way to communicate your message to your learning and development team and to the broader organization.
  • Monitor how you react to crises and failure. The way you deal when a critical issue or even failure related to learning and development occurs will influence the values and working procedures around learning and development and may even create new ones.
  • Examine how you allocate resources. The learning and development programs which get funding priority, the ones that don’t get funded, and your approach in tracking learning program ROI for the organization, will impact the way the organization perceives the culture emanating from learning and development.
  • Practice deliberate role-modeling, coaching and mentoring. The informal messages you convey about learning and development culture as you practice and apply different developmental activities are much more powerful coaching and mentoring tools than prepared speeches or videos of you discussing learning and development and building a learning culture in your organization.
  • Observe how you reward your team. As a CLO, you can quickly convey your priorities, values and assumptions about the learning culture you would like to see in your organization by rewarding the behavior that best aligns most consistently with that culture.
  • Monitor how you recruit, select, promote and excommunicate talent. As a CLO, you have the power to convey your beliefs in a learning culture from the talent you hire and fire. This is one of the most powerful tools at your fingertips, so use it wisely.

The adage “leading by example” permeates these six, interrelated tools. As you contemplate your efforts to build a learning culture remember that special learning sessions may not be required. Your beliefs and perspective, visible through your daily behavior, are some of the most persuasive tools you have as chief learning officer to embed and transmit a culture of learning in your organization.

Marina Theodotou is the director of professional development at the Computer Science Teachers Association. Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com.